Bowie, Berlin & Beyond: Delta Saxophone Quartet: CD

This review was published on: February 1st 2020

Delta Saxophone Quartet
FMR Records

This album is cool. Seriously cool. My initial scepticism over how badly pop songs can translate to instrumental works disappeared within the first 18 seconds of listening to the opening track ‘Speed of Life’. And, like a serving suggestion for a fine wine, the album is stamped with the instruction ‘TO BE PLAYED AT AMBIENT VOLUME’ – I’ve been unable to stop doing anything else since.

Bowie, Berlin & Beyond is the latest project by the eclectic UK-based new music ensemble Delta Saxophone Quartet (DSQ), and is a homage to the iconic David Bowie (1947-2016). It’s a blend of ‘traditional’ sax quartet playing, free improvisation and electronics that follows, for the most part, in the imaginary footsteps of Bowie and his ‘Berlin years’: the three years that Bowie lived in Berlin during the 1970s while recording his seminal studio albums Low, Heroes and Lodger.

Bowie, Berlin & Beyond explores and revisits Bowie’s experimentation with the ambient world of Brian Eno, free improvisation and the minimalist works of Philip Glass. The saxophone (and clarinet, on ‘Music for Airports’) playing by DSQ is beautiful and immaculate throughout. From the haunting and ethereal ‘Subterraneans’ (which, incidentally, Bowie is credited with playing sax on in the original version) to the relentless, thumping powerhouse that is ‘Breaking Glass’, this is fabulous, committed playing, creating a disc that simultaneously sounds unique to its genre and pays adequate respect to the music of Bowie, Eno and others.

DSQ comprises Graeme Blevins (sop), Pete Whyman (alto), Tim Holmes (tenor) and Chris Caldwell (baritone). Formed in 1984, it continues to be at the forefront of the British new music scene. The quartet has always aimed to merge the boundaries of its sound world, combining contemporary jazz, progressive rock and the avant-garde. This latest album doesn’t disappoint, and I highly recommend listening. In DSQ’s own words, it’s ‘a constant mission to surprise and experiment… very much like Bowie.’

Neil Crossley

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) Tel: 01642 769 558

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